by EBSCO Medical Review Board


An intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is a device that can support the heart. It is a short-term tool that can increase the amount of blood for the heart. It also makes it easier to pump blood out to the body. The balloon sits in the aorta, a large artery that carries blood away from the heart.

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Reasons for Procedure

An IABP is used to:

  • Support a damaged heart until it can work normally again
  • Stabilize someone before a surgery or procedure

IABP may be needed with:

Possible Complications

Your doctor will review problems that could happen with IABP such as:

  • Improper balloon placement
  • Incorrect timing of the machine
  • Low blood flow to arms, legs, or feet, which can lead to tissue damage
  • Kidney damage from low blood flow
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Heart attack
  • Blood clots
  • Infection
  • Aortic tear or rupture
  • Nerve damage
  • Reaction to the dye injected through the catheter (if one is used)

Factors that can increase your risk of complications include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Chronic disease such as diabetes or obesity

Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage these factors.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Test results from previous care will be reviewed. New tests may be done to make sure IABP is right for you.

Leading up to the procedure:

  • Talk to your doctor about any medicine you are taking. Certain medicine may need to be stopped up to 1 week before the procedure.
  • Let your doctor know of any allergies you have.


The insertion site will be numbed with medicine. You may also be given a sedative. It will help you relax.

Description of the Procedure

An artery in the groin or arm will be chosen. A medicine will be injected into the area to make it numb.

A small tube will be inserted into the artery and passed up to the heart. A machine will show the progress of the tube on a screen. The doctor will watch the screen to put the balloon in the correct place. A dye may be injected through the tube. This will better highlight the blood vessels on the screen.

The tube will be passed until it reaches the aorta, near the heart. The balloon is then passed through the tube and put in place. The tube will be stitched at the leg or arm. This will help to keep it stable. A bandage is placed over the insertion site.

The outer end of the tube is connected to a bedside machine. This machine will inflate and deflate the balloon. It will be set to work in rhythm with the heart. When the heart relaxes, the balloon inflates. This will push blood into the heart and increase flow to the heart muscle. When the heart begins to squeeze, the balloon deflates. This will allow blood to pass out to the rest of the body.

Immediately After Procedure

You will be taken to a recovery room. The care team will monitor blood pressure, heart beat, and other factors.

How Long Will It Take?

About 30 minutes

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. The insertion area can be uncomfortable after the procedure. It can be managed with medicine.

You will feel the inflation and deflation of balloon.

Average Hospital Stay

The length of stay will depend on overall health.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, you will be in the cardiac intensive care unit. Your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored.

Recovery may also include:

  • Pain medications
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Medication to prevent blood clots

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping the catheter insertion site clean and covered

There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:

  • Wash your hands often. Remind visitors and care team to do the same.
  • Remind your care team to wear gloves or masks when needed.
  • Do not allow others to touch the catheter or insertion site.

Call Your Doctor

You will be in the hospital with IABP. You will be monitored by the medical team for any complications.


American Heart Association 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 


Canadian Cardiovascular Society 

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada 


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How is cardiogenic shock treated? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Accessed September 14, 2020.

Intra-aortic balloon pump. Cooper University Hospital website. Available at: Accessed September 14, 2020.

Intra-aortic balloon pump. Texas Heart Institute website. Available at: Accessed September 14, 2020.

Richards S, Schub T. Intra-aortic balloon pump: Overview of patient management. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: Accessed September 14, 2020.

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